The view of Earth change that prevailed through most of the Twentieth Century — one of slow, virtually imperceptible changes accumulating over eons of time to eventually create the world in its present form — is giving way to a model involving sudden and extreme upheavals of nature that completely overturn the established order of things. The countless numbers of plant and animal species that existed on this planet before the arrival of man did not disappear through some interminably gradual process leisurely transforming the soon-to-be extinct species into novel evolutionary forms, rather, it appears that many, if not most, species departed from the planetary stage because they were exterminated wholesale in unimaginably violent convulsions of nature, leaving no progeny. Mass extinction, it is now realized, has been the norm through evolutionary history.
Anyone who undertakes even a cursory review of the great mythological traditions of Mankind must be struck by the central role played by vast cataclysms and catastrophes that destroy the world in various ways. World destruction ranks as one of the grand themes of Mans universal, archetypal heritage from all times and places of which there exists a record. It resides at the heart of both creation sagas bearing witness to events at the creation of the world, and prophetic and eschatological visions concerning the end of the future world. The parallels in the accounts of former global destructions, whether ancient and mythical, or modern and scientific, are far too striking to ignore or to explain away. It is now obvious that earlier cultures’ traditions of Apocalypse are not the conjurations of wholly superstitious, ignorant and unscientific people, but have derived from the wellspring of common experience shared by prehistoric humanity in the effort to thwart utter destruction at the hands of nature.
For many decades the academic establishment has turned up its collective nose at any discussion of Catastrophe or its frequent corollary – “lost” civilizations. The historical progression from barbarism to civilization has been viewed primarily as a linear process leading Man from the darkness of prehistory to the light of modern civilization. The fall of earlier civilizations has generally been attributed to a fortuitous convergence of intrinsic factors, moral decline, general cultural senescence, or a vague combination of social and political pressures bestowing a sort of Darwinian advantage upon the favored cultural group. But more than all of these together, it is now realized by astute observers of history, that the fate of many societies has been determined by the same kind of forces that have determined the fate of species, with the outcome being essentially identical – extinction.
Those forces, we now recognize, take a variety of forms. However, the most significant component of this new understanding involves the awareness that planet Earth is part of a much larger cosmic ecology that involves the entire Solar System – the Sun, planets, planetoids, satellites, comets, asteroids, meteors, cosmic dust, and, that this system is in turn part of a larger stellar and galactic organization, all these components operating in such a way that the sum of their interactions results in living terra-sphere. However, there is an important contra positive effect inherent in the same processes — from the human perspective some of these interactions can be profoundly destructive.
This fact can now be stated with unequivocal certainty -- Earth’s ecosphere has suffered numerous catastrophic setbacks and interruptions as a consequence of a variety of cosmic interactions. It can also be stated with equal certainty that Man’s civilization has suffered similar setbacks as a result of exactly the same kind of interactions, the primary difference being only a matter of scale.
It is clear that a much lower threshold of environmental change than that which prompts widespread biotic collapse would quite effectively provoke widespread social collapse. It appears that nature, in response to catastrophe, is far more robust than the meager social organizations of Man.
So are we then to casually dismiss the traditions handed down of old, telling of high achievement and of universal destruction? The geological record is unambiguous regarding the reality of global environmental destruction. The archaeological record is less clear regarding the achievements of Man prior to the commencement of written accounts.
New discoveries are constantly pushing back the dates of Man’s earliest accomplishments on all fronts, but the realization has not yet dawned upon the scholars of antiquity and cultural history that much of the record of earlier man has been entirely erased by repeated environmental and geological upheavals. It is no longer tenable to dismiss notions of earlier, lost civilizations of high achievement as the pseudoscientific ravings of the lunatic fringe. It is entirely conceivable that during the span of time that modern mankind has walked the Earth; many civilizations have existed and perished without leaving an enduring record, or even a trace of their existence. Nature’s recycling process, it would appear, is far more efficient than anyone had previously imagined.
Many traditions hint at, if they do not outright claim as fact, the former existence of advanced civilizations. By this we do not mean to imply that former cultural advancement would necessarily assume the same form as that of the early 21st century. At this point only diehard dogmatists could deny the sophisticated accomplishments in engineering, architecture, art, astronomy, mathematics, geometry, geodesy, medicine, etc. etc. manifest in the remnants of ancient cultures from all over the world. Many of the greatest accomplishments make their appearance at the very dawn of the historical period with anything suggestive of a developmental phase conspicuous by its absence.
This new knowledge demands a major reevaluation of our priorities. It absolutely demands a much larger hearing than it now receives in public discourse. A new environmentalism must emerge that recognizes that there exist much greater threats to the planetary biosphere than the activities of Man, a reality based environmentalism that recognizes that multiple, extreme geological and biological catastrophes have occurred throughout Earth history and will certainly continue to occur, and finally, an environmentalism that recognizes that Mankind is terrestrial Natures key to its own preservation and protection against the next cosmic assault.